Guest Column by Brian Westrick
Rarely in sports does a man transcend the sporting world and find a cult of personality all his own. Maybe once a generation, or in this case, once in three generations, we will find this man. Going back to our grandparents’ generation, that man was Joe Paterno.
As a Penn State football coach, Paterno rewrote the college football record book, and did it his way. He did it without so much as a sideways glance from the NCAA in an era where nearly every coach has been meticulously investigated, even those who have had a tenure less than one tenth the length of Paterno’s.
But Paterno and Penn State have become absolutely drenched in scandal, following the very publicized child molestation accusations made against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The head coach of the football team, Joe Paterno, was unfairly fired in the wake of these disturbing occurrences, and their subsequent publicity.
“JoePa,” as he was known around the nation, was fired largely because he was simply named in the incredibly complex stories of these events, and is the face of Penn State –– not because he is truly at fault.
On Nov. 15, assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on 40 counts regarding sexual abuse to minors. Appropriately, this set off a wildfire of blame, speculation and most of all, outrage.
The anger was indiscriminate, directed first and foremost at the offender, Jerry Sandusky. From there on, it appeared that the blame was spread equally throughout everybody in the university, regardless of the actual facts of the case.
The incident that we must be concerned with first and foremost when relating Joe Paterno’s level of involvement is the 2002 incident in which then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary related what he had seen in the shower room to coach Paterno.
McQueary would later reveal that he had clearly seen a very specific sexual act going on between coach Sandusky and an unnamed boy, identified to be between the ages of 10 and 13. It is the fact that we knew this fact from day one that has ultimately shaped the perception that we have of what Paterno’s responsibility should have been, but we must maintain perspective on what the facts are.
Within the “Findings of Fact” released by the 33rd Statewide Investigating grand jury of Pennsylvania, many of the testimonies as given to the grand jury were found to be lacking credibility. Tim Curley and Gary Schultz specifically had their testimonies called into question by the grand jury.
The grand jury found that Schultz made a materially false statement when he claimed that he “had no indication that a crime had occurred,” and that the allegations made to himself by the graduate assistant who witnessed the events firsthand were “not that serious.”
The grand jury’s statement goes on to state that Schultz’s statement that he had not been told specifically by McQueary what had occurred was also materially false.
One person who never had their testimony questioned was Joe Paterno. The testimony that included a statement that Paterno had, unlike Schultz, not been made fully aware of the situation. Paterno’s testimony included that McQueary had reported strange behavior, possibly sexual in nature.
It is very important that we remain vigilant in our pursuit of the facts when such serious allegations are presented.
With the benefit of hindsight, and being out of the situation, it’s very easy for us to stand and demonize a man who not only did not witness the 2002 events, but was also not related the full situation. Paterno also ran the massive risk of unfairly permanently dragging the name of Pennsylvania State University through the mud on nothing more than a vague claim of the misconduct of one of Paterno’s oldest friends and co-workers by a graduate assistant who failed to relate any details to Paterno.
Even the attorney representing the victims has criticized Penn State for firing Paterno, saying, “The school instead elected to do what it felt was in its own best interest at the time. Isn’t that what put the school in this position in the first place?”
While so many others knew so much more and failed to report it to the authorities, let’s not allow a desire for a shallow justice make us demonize a man who followed appropriate procedure and reported it to someone who has a much stronger responsibility to alert the authorities.